Here, then, is some advice on conducting writing workshops (learned from my time in the trenches):
- Send a written information sheet to the contact person prior to the workshop. On the sheet, clearly outline what you will be doing and if there will be any homework assignments. This gives teachers a chance to prepare for the day, especially the homework load.
- Let the kids know very clearly what they can expect from the workshop. (Today we will be talking about blah blah. ...You will have some homework tonight....Tomorrow when I come, you should have finished blah blah, etc.)
- I always announce from the get-go: "I don't expect that everyone in this class loves to write. Maybe you do, but I bet there's someone in here who doesn't love to write. But that's okay. For this workshop, I'll be with you every step of the way. I won't leave anyone in the dust...and hopefully, you will enjoy it. But no matter what, you can say goodbye to your worries about writing." You'd be surprised how many kids have a look of utter relief on their faces at this permission to not like writing. (And I'm proud to say I've had kids tell me that they thought they didn't like to write - but they really had fun in the workshop. The ultimate!)
- Most teachers will beat you to this, but if not, have the kids clear everything off their desks except what they will need for the workshop. This alleviates distractions.
- Before asking a student to help hand out any worksheets, paper, etc., check with the teacher. Often the class has designated helpers for the day and there may already be an official paper-giver-outer. Kids take those things seriously, you know.
- Before you say the word "highlighter" - tell the kids to sit on their hands. Trust me, the mere mention of the word sends 25 kids diving into their desks immediately.
- When orally brainstorming examples of writing exercises, be prepared to hear dirty underwear and dog poop. In fact, be mentally prepared to hear anything.
- When it's time to orally share student writing, ask the teacher to help you call on students to share. This gets the teacher involved in the workshop. But the best reason for doing this is that the teacher knows the students and knows which ones may need to be drawn out.
- When sharing work out loud, make sure the students know you probably won't have time for everyone to share, but you will do your best.
- Announce, "This is the last one" when you are calling on the last student. This saves 25 kids from continuing to wave their hands wildly.
That's it, folks!